Home Susan Yerkes Rodeo returns to roots

Rodeo returns to roots


We started 2021 with such high hopes, but we forgot about Murphy’s Law. Named for Edward Murphy, an Army major who became an Air Force engineer, it basically means, “If anything can go wrong, it will.” Thus went the first weeks of 2021, with a growing pandemic, vaccination bottlenecks and the violence at the U.S. Capitol.

Yet we go on, focusing on our families, our neighbors and our communities. We do what we can to be positive.

The San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo is going on, in some form, from Feb. 11-28. The decision to move forward was not taken lightly. Since last March, when the coronavirus crisis hit just after the end of a successful show, organizers have juggled options and contingency plans for 2021. As the outbreak waxed and waned and waxed again, it’s been as tricky a balancing act as riding a bucking bull, one official said.

In 2021, the traditionally massive event will be very different, starting with the venue: It’s moving back to the Freeman Coliseum, half the size of the AT&T Center next door, where it’s been since 2003. And, Freeman’s less than 10,000 seats will be half-filled due to COVID-19 precautions. Fewer performances are scheduled, and tickets sold out as soon as they went on sale, since rodeo season ticket holders got first dibs. (The Feb. 28 Charreada event, only confirmed in mid-January, offered a last shot at affordable tickets). The Family Fair and the sprawling carnival won’t happen at all this year.

According to executive director and CEO Cody Davenport, this year’s overall attendance is limited to 120,000 people — less than 10% of the estimated 1.5 million who visited in 2020. Yet the heart of the show will go on.    

“A return to our roots,” is the way spokeswoman Lauren Sides put it. Those roots date to 1949, when rancher Harry Freeman’s dream of a beautiful event center where young people from all over Texas could come for a world-class livestock show became a reality, and the coliseum opened. Just months later, in February 1950, the stock show and rodeo debuted, attracting a quarter of a million fans.

The purpose of the showcase is to further the education of young Texans, a mission still intact this year. More than 17,500 youngsters are registered for the livestock show – about average for the past few years. The schedule is more spaced out and rigid, plus the big auctions and horse shows will be livestreamed, with far fewer spectators.

But, when the sawdust from the barns and show rings settles, millions of dollars worth of scholarships will be given to young participants; last year, more than $12 million alone. Some was earned in junior livestock auctions and other events. More came through the San Antonio Livestock Exposition Inc., the event’s organizer, and additional funding came from “education partners” – colleges, universities and educational foundations. Since 1984, more than $233 million has been awarded. These days, as the number of family farms and ranches continues to shrink, about 60% of the scholarships go to young folks who aren’t in 4-H or Future Farmers of America.

With pandemic numbers rising in January, the stock show and rodeo could be affected. Organizers have put almost a year’s worth of planning into making it as safe as possible. But, as the year began, we were grimly reminded even good plans can go bad. Here’s hoping Murphy’s Law can be laid to rest for a while.

After a rocky start, all of us need a little sense of normalcy; a little reminder of basic Texas values; and a little hopeful news for the future.



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